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Nepal Army - History

The Nepalese Army is the proud national army of sovereign and independent Nepal with an unbroken history since the year 1744 AD. The fact that Nepal and the Nepalese people have never been subjugated by any colonial power is a significant achievement of the Nepalese Army. King Prithvi Narayan Shah the Great was the founder of the Nepalese Army. The modern history of the Nepalese Army started with the national unification campaign of King Prithivi Narayan Shah. Initially, this army was called the Gorkhali Army as it served the house of Gorkha. The unification campaign demanded strong management of the army. The ranks of the Army of Gorkha, was opened to all Nepalese and the Gorkhali Army transformed into the Nepalese Army. Kazi Kalu Pande led the Gorkha Army during the initial battles namely Nuwakot, Kirtipur and many more. He was killed during the battle of Kirtipur on 1757 AD Therefore his contribution for the unification of Nepal is invaluable.

Recorded history of Nepal begins after 350 BC. Documented evidences, apart from the scriptures, are not available for periods before that. Different kings of different dynasties like Gopal, Mahishpal, Kirat and Lichchabi had ruled over this country during the Pauranic (ancient) Age. Capturing other principalities and invading territories through armed might was common practice. Records show that the institution of the army was initiated just after 350 AD. In those days, the neighboring countries, including China, Tibet and Southern states, known as India today, had armies of their own. Nepal had also maintained her military strength according to documents of the reigns of prominent Lichchavi kings, including Mandev, Shiva Dev, Narendra Dev and Anshuvarma. King Narendra Devs Nepal had extended the cooperation of 7,000 cavalry and 3,500 infantry troops in the year 647 AD at the request of China to attack a Southern kingdom.

The armed forces used to be centrally located during the ancient times, whereas, in the middle age, they were deployed in vital locations like fortresses in strategically important places of the country. The commander of the fortress was called "Kwantha Nayak" and they were very powerful. The Malla dynasties ruled Nepal in the middle age. Newar Malla kings ruled over Kathmandu valley and the surrounding areas while the Karnali region was ruled by Khas Malla kings, who had maintained powerful armies. King Jitari Malla had attacked Kathmandu valley but the Khas Malla forces were ignobly defeated by the Newari Malla soldiers.

During this period, Nepal was divided into fifty different principalities which meant that military strength remained dispersed. Soldiers were maintained by the kings, princes, chiefs of army, mulmi, kwantha nayaks and umraos. These traditional ranks were prestigious positions in the army. Since some of the principalities were stronger than the others, there were continuous clashes. In Kathmandu valley, and also in Doti, it is now known that Indian mercenaries had also been used. The significance of military might derived from the Pauranic Age was well understood and used liberally.

The 1700s was a century of uncertainty throughout the world. Rivalry among states was not confined to this part of the planet. The world military powers like Britain, France and Portugal were busy creating colonies in different parts. Clashes in their interests resulted in wars in different countries. Britain and France were also moving towards South and Southeast Asia. This threatened Nepal as well.

The British East India Company had already captured major parts of India and was moving forward towards the Northeast and approaching Nepal. Nepal was divided into many principalities during this period. It was at this time that King Prithvi Narayan Shah, hailing from one of the principalities called Gorkha, decided to unify Nepal. He was the architect of modern Nepal. Although, Gorkha was small and economically weak, King Prithvi Narayan Shah astounded the world by carrying out such a challenging task under such difficult circumstances. The Unification Campaign was initiated in 1740 AD at which time the British had already started colonizing the Indian provinces.

This was a turning point in the history of the Nepalese army (NA). Since unification was not possible without a strong army, the management of the armed forces had to be exceptional. Apart from the standard army being organized in Gorkha, technicians and experts had to be brought in from abroad to manufacture war materials. After the Gorkhali troops finally captured Kathmandu (then known as Nepal), the Gorkhali armed forces came to be known as the Nepalese Army.

Their gallantry, sincerity and simplicity impressed even the enemy, so much so, that the British East- India Company started recruiting Nepalese into their forces. Since the British had fought against the Nepalese Army, which was till that time, still colloquially known as "Army of Gorkha" or "Gorkhali" army, the British took to calling their new soldiers "Gurkhas". Hence, in essence, the Gorkha heritage belongs, first and foremost, to the Nepalese Army.

The Indians had started their independence struggle against the British empire in the 1800s. The struggle spread to the Indian native armed forces serving the British. The mutiny began from the Meerut cantonment. The British Empire requested Nepal for help. The shrewd Prime Minister and Commander in Chief Jung Bahadur Rana himself took part in the suppression of the mutiny with Col Pahal Man Singh Basnyat and Col Bhairab Narsingh Rana along with some 17,000 Nepalese troops. About 5,000 mutineers were killed and some 500 captured in Gorakhpur, Jompur, Lucknow, Pipre Sahebgunj, Shish Gunj, Balewa and Jalalpur, by the Nepalese expedition. The relation between the British and the Nepalese naturally further improved. On 18th November1860 an agreement between the two governments was signed. The plain areas lying between Mahakali River and Rapti River, which was lost by Nepal in the 1816 Sugauli Treaty, was returned by the grateful British.

There is still some misunderstanding that the Nepalese Army is a part of the British and Indian Armies. The Gurkha Rifles existing in India and Britain are part of foreign military organizations where Nepalese are recruited. The NA rightfully is the proud national army of sovereign and independent Nepal with an unbroken history since the year 1744. The fact that Nepal and the Nepalese people have never been subjugated by any colonial power is a significant achievement of the Nepalese Army. King Prithvi Narayan Shah the Great was the founder of the Nepalese Army.

The government of Nepal at first treated the Maoist insurgency as a criminal matter, and starting in 1996 dispatched the Nepali Civil Police to deal with them. By the beginning of 2003, most VDC stations no longer functioned, and the police had fallen back to the 75 district headquarters throughout the country, rarely venturing into the countryside. The Maoists thus took control of much of the country, spreading from their bases in the mid-western provinces. After November 2001, when the rebels escalated their attacks and killed hundreds of police, the government began to commit the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) to combat the insurgency. However, this too was largely ineffective. The Army had been trained mainly for ceremonies and participation in UN peacekeeping operations it had no real experience in action within Nepal nor in counter-insurgency operations. The RNA and Civil Police suffered from mutual mistrust and lack of communication, so that the RNA had no real intelligence on the insurgency.

Before the general Maoist offensive of November 2001, the RNA had been given a limited role in internal peace-keeping operations. In a pilot program limited to six of Nepals 75 districts, several RNA battalions attempted to combine security with civilian assistance operations, building roads, digging wells, and providing rudimentary medical attention to villages. Yet such efforts remained far too limited to have any impact on diminishing the broader national development of the insurgency. The RNA suffered considerable losses in its early head-to-head confrontations with armed guerrillas. Lacking any kind of strategic plan, and handicapped by a government that was itself in constant turmoil, the RNA was limited to ad hoc responses to insurgent actions. RNA actions themselves often deteriorated into ruthless repression and terrorizing of villages where the insurgents had been active.

In 2001, the fight against the rebels was turned over to the Royal Nepalese Army, which had remained under the control of the King. In addition, in 2002, the King dismissed the elected Prime Minister and appointed a new government. The King also allowed the terms of locally elected officials to expire and suspended new elections, appointing officials to take their place. As a result, the military has become essentially the instrument of the King and his appointed officials. The RNA thus operated without strong civilian or democratic control and was seen by some politicians as a threat to Nepali democracy.

The RNA also lacked training in counter-insurgency, and thus struck violently against perceived insurgents. Lacking good intelligence and coordination, RNA operations often degenerated into terror against villages suspected of sheltering guerrillas.

The RNA was neither generally representative of Nepals population, nor does it operate impartially. The majority of the insurgents support came from ethnic groups and lower-caste groups who are generally excluded from government and military positions. Thus the insurgency, although led by members of the Nepali intelligentsia with a Maoist ideology, had in many areas taken on the character of an ethnic war, with insurgents drawn from hill tribes (especially the Magars), fighting a royal military that was seen as an authoritarian instrument and defender of upper-caste Nepali elites.

Between 2002 and 2007 the RNA more than doubled in size from less than 50,000 to almost 95,000 soldiers. In November 2006 the Maoists and the government agreed to end the conflict and place their armed forces in cantonments, (with UN monitoring) while the Maoists agreed to join the government and a new interim parliament. But the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) left unresolved the issue of integration of armed forces. Initially, 31,000 Maoist personnel were placed in cantonment sites and their weapons stored and registered. UNMIN then proceeded to verify that about 19,600 of the 31,000 were indeed Maoist combatants.





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